WITH ever-growing confidence, and support seeming to come from both the traditional right and left, Ukip has declared the election in the North-East a two party race.

But rather than being a fringe party of protest, they see themselves as being the main challenger to the Labour Party’s stronghold over votes in staunch working class communities.

They claim the erosion of the manufacturing sector and heavy industry over the past generation, and the blurring of politics between the two main parties has led to people looking for wider policies they can identify with.

There was no sign of their pint-supping, cigarette-smoking boss, but Nigel Farage’s foot soldiers appeared in good spirits and optimistic as they gathered to get their campaign bus on the road for the forthcoming General Election on May 7.

It was held at the Marriott Hotel at the Metrocentre in Gateshead and the irony of a Eurosceptic party launching its campaign in European Suite was not lost on some wry observers.

The region’s first Ukip MEP Jonathan Arnott, 34, who lives in Blackhall Colliery, originally from Sheffield, is hoping to replace Labour’s Grahame Morris as the MP for Easington.

The former maths teacher said: “We have got a tough fight here in the North-East. It is not really against a Liberal Democrat Party, whose support has all but collapsed over the last few years. It is not really against the Conservative Party, which huge swathes of the North-East electorate still blames for problems going back to the miners’ strike.

“Our fight is against a Labour Party, which has dominated this region for decades. If we don’t take that fight to Labour then who will?

“Someone needs to stand up and challenge that complacency of Labour and I believe Ukip can and will do that.”

Mr Arnott said in the General Election 2010 Ukip was largely ignored and received 2.7 per cent of the vote, which rose almost 25 per cent in last year’s council elections and almost 30 per cent in the European elections.

He said: “Over the last few years, across the country, there has been one political story and that story has been the rise of Ukip.”

Mr Arnott said Ukip policies include raising tax thresholds so no-one on minimum wage pays any income tax, introducing an Australian-style points style immigration policy to end the ‘current free-for-all’, duelling the A1 in the region, cutting foreign aid and saving £55m a day by leaving the European Union.

With rhetoric designed to appeal to people previously allied with red Labour and the blue Tories it seems quite fitting Ukip candidates wear purple rosettes.

Qualified barrister and former Clerk to the Justices in County Durham, Rhys Burriss, 63, who lives in Claypath, Durham City, is standing in Bishop Auckland, where Labour’s Helen Goodman is seeking re-election, said: “Both of the major parties, and the Liberal Democrats, have been taken over by career politicians.

“They have lived their whole adult lives in the political village of Westminster and that is one of the reasons policies have become so estranged from the ordinary working woman and man.

“We have been going around in a Ukip liveried bus and been getting a huge ‘thumbs up’ from the council estates of the North-East, and I speak as someone who grew up on one in the Midlands.”

Malcolm Bint, 66, of Petersfield, Hampshire, a semi-retired electronic engineer, is standing in the north Durham constituency, which, until the dissolution of parliament, was served by Kevan Jones, of The Labour Party.

He said: “The days of right and left are probably gone. Ukip sits in the middle and says ‘let’s just have some sense’ and common sense appeals to all classes across society.”